If you’ve ever taken an intro sociology or anthropology class, the concept of social norms and expectations inevitably riddled your mind. Somewhere in the midst of scrolling through Facebook in the back of the lecture hall, you began to think about how much of your personality is based off of individual choice. The reality is that we’re all aware of social norms and often cognizantly act on them as well. But it is rare that we contemplate deviating those norms in our everyday lives. Even at a big university, it can feel like the spotlight is always on you, especially when it comes to personal appearance.
It’s hard enough to get up for a 9am. But why do we feel the need to put the extra effort into the day to pencil in finding a cute outfit or putting on makeup? How women present themselves and the expectations behind these choices tie into Deborah Tannen’s theory that “There is no unmarked woman.”
Tannen shines light on the “marking” of women, or the certain associations with the female gender. Wearing makeup is often regarded as being put together and professional. Makeup in this sense is an expectation, something women use to fit norms whether that be composure in the classroom, office, or on a night out.
The time invested in makeup affects relationships and paychecks, and in the sense of the college sphere it has the power to shape an image. Wearing or electing not to wear makeup is something women choose to do for various reasons, but this choice is deeply rooted in societal expectations and even whether or not someone has the liberty to even make this choice.
Not wearing makeup can often lead to people thinking you look “sick” or “tired” rather than focused and poised. When speaking to a professor or peers this image that is imposed on someone directs the interaction. Deviating from this social norm ultimately leads to skepticism, and out of fear of this interrogation it’s natural to feel more confident when wearing makeup.
A huge influencer for these expectations today is the immediate presence of media in our lives. Role models are at our fingertips whether it be models or successful female politicians, and whether or not they’re wearing makeup inherently contributes to our view of how we should behave. The internet almost had a breakdown when Alicia Keys stopped wearing makeup, and she received criticism, accolades, and everything in between for her “bold” move. This small choice yielded huge social ramifications, and similar sentiments were mirrored this winter when Hillary Clinton stepped back into the spotlight makeup-free. The attention paid to the choices of these women speaks to how much control the media has over defining our actions.
There is nothing wrong with wearing makeup, but it’s important that we are aware of these arbitrary expectations that seem to rule our lives. As college students, we should take charge and attempt to create a culture where we have a choice to be confident and composed–no matter what we put on our face.